Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, January 17, 2020, 3:38 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Aspirations for this Year
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I have been on overseas visits since the beginning of this year, so this is my first press conference to be held in Japan this year. I hope to receive your ongoing support in this New Year.
Following my visit to Southeast Asia at the beginning of the year, I visited the United States this week and held a Japan-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, a Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and a Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, during which I held in-depth discussions regarding the situations in the Middle East and North Korea. There have been various movements in the international situation, including the situation in the Middle East, since the beginning of the year, and I have had a busy time. But I believe that I must continue to have a sense of urgency and develop “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength.”
This year is the 60th anniversary since the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States (Japan-U.S. Security Treaty) entered into force. The extent of the Japan-U.S. Alliance is expanding now from diplomacy and security to encompass the economy and rule-making, and I would like to make the Japan-U.S. Alliance evolve into something that further contributes to the entire world. I would also like to develop Japan’s unique diplomacy concepts, including initiatives toward realizing a “free and open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP). During my visit to Southeast Asia at the beginning of the year, each of the countries I visited shared the view that we should seek synergy between the FOIP and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) . At the same time, I would also like to focus on and make further advances for matters such as the tense situation in the Middle East; responses to the unresolved issues concerning North Korea; diplomacy with Japan’s neighboring countries including China, the ROK, and Russia; the economic diplomacy led by Japan for new rule-making; and responses to global issues.
The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held this summer. It is anticipated that many foreign dignitaries and tourists will visit Japan, so this year, I would like to further showcase to the world the various charms of Japan including our rich culture and food, beautiful nature, advanced technology, and the hospitality of Japanese people.
Visit to Indonesia by Minister MOTEGI
Tribune News, Susilo: Last week when you visited Indonesia, you rode the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Jakarta. How was the MRT Jakarta? I would like to ask for your reaction and views. I would also like to ask about the Natuna Islands. China has been claiming the Natuna Islands as its own until now, and Indonesians have been extremely angry. What is Japan’s view on this? I would like to ask for your comments, please.
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, I did a test ride in the MRT (subway) through six stations and gave a speech at the new ASEAN Secretariat. It was extremely punctual. When I did the test ride in the MRT, I realized anew that Japan’s cooperation is being utilized not only for simply making things, but also in the sense of fostering human resources and transferring knowhow.
During this trip to Indonesia, I confirmed with President Joko and Foreign Minister Retno to promote specific cooperation in various fields, such as the aforementioned infrastructure project or fostering human resources. I also welcomed that Indonesia decided to relax its restrictions on imports of Japanese food products following the Great East Japan Earthquake, and requested that the restrictions be quickly lifted. I also requested cooperation toward the swift resumption of the project for collecting the remains of Japanese soldiers who had died in Indonesia.
I also held an in-depth discussion regarding regional issues. I clearly stated Japan’s position of resolutely opposing attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the South China Sea. I confirmed close cooperation for regional issues such as the South China Sea and North Korea as well as for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Although we did not conclude a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this time, we agreed to build a framework that will oversee overall bilateral cooperation projects. I would like to advance specific cooperation in various fields through this framework.
Situation in Russia (En Masse Resignation of the Cabinet in Russia)
Sankei Shimbun, RIKITAKE: On January 15, the Cabinet in Russia resigned en masse. You visited Russia recently and began full-blown negotiations regarding concluding a peace treaty with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I believe that it cannot be predicted whether Foreign Minister Lavrov will be reappointed going forward. How do you think this mass resignation will affect the peace treaty negotiations?
Minister MOTEGI: Russia and Japan are important partners in the Asia-Pacific region. I believe that building stable relations and deepening cooperation between our two countries, which are major powers in the region, are extremely important for regional stability and development. There will be a Cabinet reshuffle, but of course I have built good relations with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Minister Oreshkin. There is no change to the Government of Japan’s basic policy of persistently negotiating to resolve the attributions issue and conclude a peace treaty, no matter who is minister on the Russian side. This is being conducted under the agreement between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin to accelerate negotiations for concluding a peace treaty based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956. I will firmly advance negotiations no matter who is foreign minister. Of course, I have absolutely no problem with Mr. Lavrov.
NHK, Watanabe: I would like to ask a question related to this. President Putin stated that constitutional reform would be conducted in Russia during his annual State of the Nation address. He clearly stated that the Constitution would take priority over treaties and international arrangements. From that viewpoint, there is great interest in the effect on treaty negotiations if agreements such as the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956 have lower importance than the Constitution. Are you considering appealing those points on behalf of the Japanese side?
Minister MOTEGI: It is difficult to say at this stage what developments there will be based on the annual State of the Nation address. Specifically, it is not as if President Putin mentioned the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration.
Situation in the ROK (President Moon’s New Year’s Press Conference)
Yonhap News Agency, Lee: At his New Year’s press conference, President Moon Jae-in of the ROK stated that the ROK and Japan need to think together and harness their wisdom to resolve the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, and actively called for any proposed revisions to the ideas presented by the ROK. In addition, recently support groups for civilian workers and lawyers from both the ROK and Japan proposed establishing a conference by both countries to discuss solutions to the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. I would like to ask your view on this.
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, I would like to refrain from commenting on each movement by the plaintiffs, their support groups, and others. Japan has had a consistent position regarding the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, and I will continue to strongly request the ROK to remedy its breach of international law. The Government of the ROK has said that it has already proposed a solution, but I am not sure what exactly the ROK is referring to as the solution. At the very least, I believe there is no question that the ball is in the court of the ROK side.
Yonhap News Agency, Lee: Support groups from Japan and the ROK indicated their view that the starting point for resolving the issue of the civilian workers should be the Government of Japan and companies accepting and apologizing for the reality of human rights violations. I believe that your statements on the issue being settled and judgments on international law are ultimately in relation to the issue of claim rights, assets, and money, but the support groups’ call for an apology and acknowledging the reality of human rights violations is taking up a position for the matter of the emotions of the victims themselves. What are your thoughts on this?
Minister MOTEGI: I am not saying it is an issue of money. I believe that the question is whether the issue was settled or not and the answer to that question is one that the governments of Japan and the ROK have agreed upon. I believe that agreements between countries should be upheld.
Situation in the Middle East (Appeals to Ease Tensions)
Pan Orient News, Azhari: My question is about the Middle East. We understand that Prime Minister Abe made a bold decision to go ahead with his planned tour to the Middle East, despite some concerns among some Japanese officials not to go and shy away from the area on the basis that it's tense. But it looks like the Japanese Government is more resolved to de-escalate the tension in the region. What is your next step after the result of this trip? Especially we know that the US is increasing sanctions against Iran, what is Japan's position on this issue?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, I was not fully aware of the concerns in Japan regarding Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the Middle East. In any event, amidst rising tensions in the situation in the Middle East, Prime Minister Abe visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, which play a major role for easing tensions in the region and stabilizing the situation, from January 11 to 15 as part of Japan’s diplomatic efforts to avoid further escalation of the situation.
Prime Minister Abe held frank exchanges of views at the summit level in the various countries, and agreed with them on the recognition that all of the people concerned should respond with self-restraint and exert all diplomatic efforts. In addition, he shared the recognition that it is important to increase momentum for peaceful resolutions to various regional issues through dialogue by leveraging opportunities where developments for easing tensions are observed through the restrained responses by the countries concerned.
MbS (H.R.H. Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa) of Saudi Arabia and MbZ (H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan ) of the UAE are truly excellent leaders, and I believe it was extremely significant that Prime Minister Abe held frank exchanges of views with them. In addition, Prime Minister Abe provided explanations regarding the information-gathering activities by the Self-Defense Force with the aim of ensuring safe navigation by ships related to Japan, and received understanding and support from the various countries.
As I stated in my opening remarks, I visited the United States this week and met with Secretary of State Pompeo. We agreed on the recognition that escalation of the situation should be avoided, and confirmed the importance of exerting all diplomatic efforts toward peace and stability in the Middle East while continuing to closely cooperate with the countries concerned.
Japan is an ally of the United States. We also have friendly relations with various countries in the Middle East, including Iran. I would like to continue persistent diplomatic efforts toward easing tensions in the Middle East and stabilizing the situation by leveraging such relations, and closely cooperating with the countries concerned.
Situation in Iran (Killing of General Soleimani by the U.S. Military)
Kyodo News, SAITO: I would like to ask an additional question about Iran. It has been pointed out in the public opinions in the United States and Europe that the killing of General Soleimani of Iran by the U.S. military might have been a violation of international law. What is your reaction and view on this?
Minister MOTEGI: The answer to your question is how I responded three times in the Diet today.
Kyodo News, SAITO: I understand, but today is your first press conference so I would like to ask you again. What do you think?
Minister MOTEGI: Do I need to say it again? Were you listening?
Kyodo News, SAITO: I was listening.
Minister MOTEGI: So it’s fine, right?
Kyodo News, SAITO: I understand.
60th Anniversary of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty (U.S. Forces, Japan)
AP, YAMAGUCHI: I would like to ask about Japan-U.S. relations, which you mentioned in your opening remarks. This year is the 60th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. Leaders in Washington D.C. have been making statements expressing expectations that Japan will take on a further role in terms of both financial and capacity aspects, including for the U.S. Forces, Japan. What role will Japan take going forward, including for that as well as for the situation in the Middle East?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe that since the conclusion of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960, there have been major changes in the security environment surrounding Japan, but the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements have continued to be the foundation for Japan’s diplomacy and security. I also believe that the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements, the core of the Japan-U.S. Alliance, are playing a role for not only Japan but also as the cornerstone of peace and stability for the Indo-Pacific region and the international community. Japan-U.S. relations are now expanding from diplomacy and security to various fields of the economy and rule-making. Japan will continue to closely cooperate with the United States to work to ensure the peace and prosperity of the region and the international community.
January 19 marks the 60th anniversary since the signing of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. It is planned to hold a reception to commemorate the 60th anniversary in Tokyo on Sunday, January 19. Coordination is currently being conducted to have joint statements issued by the four foreign and defense ministers of Japan and the United States.
Defendant Carlos Ghosn’s Departure from Japan (Response to the Government of Lebanon)
AP, YAMAGUCHI: Over the New Year period, former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s departure from Japan became big news. What discussions are taking place now between Japan and Lebanon? Has the Japanese side made any new suggestions, and how did Lebanon react? Please tell us about the current situation.
Minister MOTEGI: Despite Mr. Ghosn being released on bail after agreeing to the conditions that he must not hide from the court and travel overseas, he departed Japan and evaded the criminal trial. I believe that such actions are unforgiveable under the systems of all countries.
On January 7, Ambassador Okubo told President Aoun of Lebanon that “defendant Carlos Ghosn’s illegal departure from Japan and arrival in Lebanon is deeply regrettable and can never be overlooked by the Government of Japan,” and requested that the Government of Lebanon should provide all necessary cooperation on this matter, for which Japan has grave concern, including ascertaining the facts behind this case.
It is my understanding that President Aoun explained that the Government of Lebanon did not have any involvement whatsoever in the incident, and stated that “Lebanon attaches importance to relations with Japan, and, in response to the request for cooperation from Japan, promises that Lebanon will spare no effort in providing unstinting cooperation.”
Japan-China Relations (Visit to Japan by President Xi Jinping of China)
NHK, WATANABE: I would like to ask about Japan-China relations. Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs AKIBA recently visited China and held a Strategic Dialogue. I believe that preparation advanced toward President Xi’s visit to Japan during that dialogue. What are your thoughts on whether there are any areas of agreement toward formulating the “5th political document ” at present, and about conducting discussions between you and your counterpart going forward on this point?
Minister MOTEGI: As Japan-China relations have completely returned to their normal path, I would truly like to take the opportunity posed by welcoming President Xi to Japan as a State Guest this spring to convey to the world that Japan and China, which are major countries in the international community, will take on major responsibilities and roles.
Preparation is progressing now toward President Xi’s visit, but nothing has been decided at present about the outcomes. I believe that matters such as whether some documents will be formulated should be discussed well between Japan and China going forward.
Japan-ROK Relations (Issue of the Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula)
Yonhap News Agency, Lee: I would like to ask another question about Japan-ROK relations. Do you believe that acknowledging and apologizing for the reality of human rights violations during the process concerning the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula would be inconsistent with upholding the agreement between countries, which you mentioned before? Or do you believe that it is possible?
Minister MOTEGI: As I stated before, Japan has had a consistent position concerning the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. There is no change to my intention of continuing to request the ROK to remedy its breach of international law, which has reversed the foundation of Japan-ROK relations.